There’s only room in this family for one artist, and that’s me
Susan Williams-Ellis was the founder of the Portmeirion pottery and the creator of its enduringly popular Botanic Garden ceramic tableware.
That she would grow up to be artistic seemed never in doubt; hailed as a genius, her father Clough was the architect behind the famous Portmeirion village, and her mother a novelist. Both her parents were part of the famous bohemian Bloomsbury Set, the key cultural influencers of the early twentieth century.
Sculptor Henry Moore was among Susan’s art school tutors and after graduating in fine art, she earned a living illustrating books. Her father was well into his 50-year vision and development of Portmeirion – an Italian Riviera-style village on the Gwynned coast – when he asked Susan and her husband Euan to manage its struggling souvenir shop.
Susan acquired two Stoke on Trent potteries factories, and transformed their fortunes, too. With one making ‘blanks’ and the other specialising in decorating the china, Portmeirion ceramics based on Susan’s designs began to hit the shops.
Williams-Ellis brought new ideas to the pottery manufacturing process and capture the essence of the 60s with her designs. The enduring Botanic Garden range was inspired by an antique natural history book.
Often to be seen on the factory floor and celebrated for her role in the ceramics industry, Susan later said that was happy to have chosen pottery over a career in painting. It had enabled her to create beautiful things that people could afford, she said.